How to keep your children safe during the winter

Girl dressed warm

It’s now time to pull out the winter clothes and snow gear. Albert Yu, MD, a pediatrician for Bayside Medical Group in the Stanford Children’s Health network, offers tips on how to keep your children warm and safe when enjoying the outdoors this winter.

What’s the best type of clothing for children to wear when they are out in the snow and cold temperatures?

The best way to stay warm and dry is to dress in layers. Layers not only allow flexibility for changing weather conditions, but they create an air space that can help maintain body temperature.

For infants and toddlers, the rule of thumb is to have them wear one more layer than an adult would wear in the same situation. It’s also important that they not wear any clothing that might get caught on branches or play equipment, such as scarves or clothes with drawstrings. We also recommend kids wear hats, mittens or gloves, and warm boots when out in the snow.

Should parents be concerned about hypothermia and frostbite?

If children wear proper winter clothing when outside and come in frequently to warm up, they should not experience any adverse effects from the cold temperatures. However, children should not be playing outside when the temperature is below -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hypothermia can occur when someone’s body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The first sign of hypothermia is shivering. Other symptoms include slurred speech, shallow breathing, lack of coordination and confusion. If anyone is experiencing these symptoms, bring them inside, carefully remove any wet clothing, wrap them in blankets and call 911.

Frostbite is when the skin actually becomes frozen. Fingers, toes, noses and ears are common places to get frostbite. There are different degrees of frostbite. Initially, the affected area becomes red and numb. In the most severe cases, blisters will form and the area will turn black. With the first sign of frostbite, treat the area with warm water, and seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

How should parents ensure their kids are protected when participating in snow activities?

First, children should never be unsupervised when they are out in the snow. When children are sledding, they should always sled feet first and sit upright. It’s also recommended that they wear a helmet, similar to a hockey helmet. They should avoid sledding in crowded areas and around trees, and slopes should be less than 30 degrees and end with a flat run off.

Skiers and snowboarders should always wear a helmet and goggles. We also recommend that snowboarders wear gloves with built-in wrist guards. Avoid skiing and snowboarding in areas with obstacles and trees.

As for snowmobiling, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under 16 should never operate snowmobiles and children under six should not be allowed to ride on one. Goggles and helmets are also recommended for any child who is snowmobiling.

When playing in the snow, kids should not be allowed to build forts or tunnels because they may collapse.

Anything else parents should be concerned about?

Kids may not be as thirsty when playing outside in the winter as they are in the summer months, but it’s still important they hydrate well. Also, since sunlight is reflected off of snow, kids should wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours.

When children are riding in the car, they should wear layers rather than big bulky jackets. This is important because all the additional padding on the jacket flattens out and creates additional space between the restraint and the child’s chest, so there’s a risk of them sliding out from under the restraint.

What are some other ways to stay healthy during the winter?

Since it’s cold and flu season, children six months and older should get the flu shot. Also, remind your children to wash their hands frequently and teach them to sneeze and cough into their elbow.

Dr. Albert Yu sees patients out of Bayside Medical Group’s Pleasanton and Walnut Creek locations. Bayside Medical Group is a member of the Stanford Children’s Health network.

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